As North Korea's trade with the outside world and market size grow, more North Koreans have assets worth over US$50,000.
The government here estimates that some 240,000 North Koreans have assets between $50,000 and $100,000. A government source on Monday said analysis of data about North Korea reveals the emergence of a new meritocracy which transcends the previous focus on ideological background.
The source said many high-ranking Workers Party officials, diplomats and traders are part of this new class.
Meanwhile, North Korea is apparently permitting the circulation of dollars, euros, yuan and other foreign currencies in 14 new economic development zones created last year as well as financial transactions using them. Pundits expect the measure to stimulate the development of a nascent market-based economy in the reclusive country.
The laws on economic development zones enacted last year stipulate that designated currencies other than the North Korean won can be used in the zones and can flow freely in and out of the country.
Yoo Wook, an attorney specializing in North Korean law, said, "This means it has become legal to circulate foreign currency on a nationwide level."
Although foreign currencies are used habitually in the black and grey market, dollars, euros and yuan are only permitted in certain designated areas like the Kaesong Industrial Complex and Rajin-Sonbong economic zone.
Experts were skeptical whether the latest changes will lead to any great boost in foreign investment in the North. Kim Byung-yeon at Seoul National University said, "If foreign currency is liberalized, the investment climate will improve, but risks like constant capricious policy changes mean few businesses are willing to invest their money there."